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Julián Castro was the only presidential candidate with a dedicated police reform plan in 2019, but at the time, his initiatives weren’t wholly accepted by his entire party. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
Julián Castro was the only presidential candidate with a dedicated police reform plan in 2019, but at the time, his initiatives weren’t wholly accepted by his entire party. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Julián Castro was the only presidential candidate with a police reform plan heading into the 2020 election. His fight goes on in 2021

Most recently, Castro is advocating for Proposition B in San Antonio, Texas.

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Police reform is a pressing topic nationwide, brought-on by the upcoming one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers, and the ongoing trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with Floyd’s death. 

Just minutes from where Floyd was killed and just less than a year later, Daunte Wright, a young Black man, was killed by an experienced officer who says she mistook her gun for her taser.

In Virginia, police finally released a video showing officer, Joe Gutierrez, threatening and pepper-spraying Caron Nazario, a Black and Latino Army second lieutenant back in December 2020.

Most recently, Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy in Chicago, was shot and killed by an officer while he was unarmed with his hands in the air.

Because of such cases, police reform initiatives are spreading in the United States like wildfire.

In Maryland, new legislation will limit the use of no-knock warrants. It expands access to disciplinary records and establishes a “necessary and proportional” use-of-force policy, meaning police in violation of the new bill, by killing or seriously injuring someone, are liable to 10 years in prison. 

New Mexico also recently became the second state (Colorado was the first), to ban “qualified immunity,” the judicial doctrine that provides officers a massive shield against civil consequences for violating people’s rights. 

Still, their passage and implementation are different matters altogether, as the aforementioned cases of police overreach continue to surface or be made public months after their occurrence, especially in communities where such legislation is unheard of.

In San Antonio, voters will soon decide whether to approve a measure, Proposition B, that would strip police unions of their collective bargaining ability. Proponents say it will improve accountability and reform a “broken system” which, as it stands, has a lenient disciplinary system for officers who offend rules. 

Those against the bill argue that such a loss of bargaining rights would limit the department’s ability to recruit officers, which they say will result in fewer patrols and increased crime. 

But the issue between those lines, is that inability to act will perpetuate what has become the norm within the city’s police department — that 70% of officers fired for misconduct are rehired.

The initiative in one of Texas’ largest cities comes nearly a year after George Floyd, and as pressure is also mounting against President Joe Biden and members of Congress to show they are committed to holding police accountable.

It also comes over a year since former HUD Secretary Julián Castro made police reform one of his main priorities of his campaign as he ran in the Democratic Presidential Primaries. 

He was the only candidate with a dedicated police reform plan, but at the time, his initiatives weren’t wholly accepted by the entire party. 

“After the murder of George Floyd, many Americans’ eyes were opened about the reality of how Black and Brown communities are often treated by law enforcement. And what we’ve seen in the last two weeks has only reinforced that, and so the sense of urgency to change what’s happening is only growing stronger, especially among Democrats,” Castro told AL DÍA in a recent interview.

He referenced the San Antonio Bill, in which citizens have an opportunity to enhance accountability by removing the ability of the police union to bargain around issues of discipline, transparency, and accountability. 

“My hope is that the sense of urgency will turn into concrete action, including at the local level and I’m proud that in my hometown we’re seeing the willingness to take that on,” said Castro.

Despite mounting pressure, the Biden administration made a show of caution this week when addressing the recent cases of police brutality and backing away from Biden’s campaign promise to create a police reform commission. It was one of his more progressive policies over the campaign trail. 

According to White House officials, the president’s stance is that it would be “counterproductive” to the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. 

This move makes one question whether, if the nation fails in widespread police reform initiatives, that smaller-scale bills like Proposition B will be a more immediate solution. 

For years, lawmakers tried to effectively address police violence but have failed. 

It’s not the ideal situation for proponents of police reform, but it may be the only avenue available if the president proceeds with caution. 

“I hope that it doesn’t take a series of ballot initiatives in cities. I hope that city councils and county councils address these issues as the locally elected representatives of the people. However, when there’s a failure to do that, then the people ought to take it into their own hands with ballot initiatives,” Castro said. 

The topic has long been considered taboo, and many legislators are hesitant to take it on. Castro did in the primaries, and he was all-but shunned by moderates for his stance. 

During the 2020 elections, Republicans attacked Democratic opponents over calls to "defund the police" among progressives, and tried to paint the entire party as “radical.” 

Over time, it did its damage.

Some speak out, while others don’t.

“At the local level they’re afraid of police unions. They don’t want to make the case, even if they sympathize with the aims of people who are calling out for change. And it’s that political courage that we need to help build up before you’re going to see a massive change here,” Castro continued.

The deep rifts in the Democratic Party over what to do on the issue of police reform have put Democrats in a difficult spot, but it’s only difficult if the obvious isn’t considered. 

“What we see is very sad and very avoidable,” Castro said. “And the terrible instances of police overreach cry out for much stronger police accountability immediately. And that means at the federal level, at the state level, and at the local level.”

Early voting for Proposition B in San Antonio begins Monday, April 19.

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